Until recently, it seemed like TikTok was unstoppable. During Covid-19, the video-sharing platform became a social media sensation that took the world by storm, surpassing 2 billion downloads and setting a record for app installs in a single quarter. However the last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for TikTok fans and creators alike, from headlines of President Trump ordering bans on TikTok in the US to reported discussions of Microsoft purchasing TikTok. The future of the short-form video app that we’ve all come to love and depend on is in upheaval, and the ‘vultures are circling’. This chaos and uncertainty has opened up a window for competitors to swoop in and threaten TikTok’s market dominance. 

The threat from above

The first threat to TikTok is coming from the established tech giants. Being in the best place to capitalise, Instagram and YouTube are developing features inspired by TikTok and combining these with their own inherent strengths. In doing so, they’re hoping to extend their existing engagement, and increase the amount of time people spend in the app while attempting to undermine TikTok’s rising influence.

According to a recent YPulse study, Instagram would be the top app users would flock to if TikTok were officially banned in the U.S, so the timing is particularly fortuitous for Instagram’s launch of Reels, its TikTok clone. Similar to TikTok, Instagram users can record, edit and compile 15-second video clips set to music and share them to their Stories, with the potential to go viral on a new Top Reels section of the Explore feed. For many, the draw to TikTok is largely because of how innately different it feels from instagram and Instagrammers perfectly curated, polished aesthetic. So, in addition to successfully copying TikTok’s core features, Instagram also needs to recreate the same content and creator culture, which thrives off acting silly and being ridiculous just to make people smile. Facebook is already luring TikTok creators to Reels with lucrative offers in exchange for exclusive content and “first looks” on its competing platform. 

Meanwhile, YouTube is reportedly planning to launch an in-app rival, called Shorts by the end of 2020, offering a feed of super-short videos that act as an alternative to longer vlogs and clips that appear on YouTube. Most interestingly, Shorts will take advantage of the video service’s extensive catalogue of licensed music, which will be available to use as soundtracks for the videos created by users. While the integration of a TikTok-like feature into YouTube may not necessarily be a threat to TikTok itself, it’s likely that it will create a new interesting function to help keep YouTube on top and down with the kids.

The threat from below

At the same time, various TikTok competitors — like Dubsmash, Byte, and Clash are coming in from below to threaten the app’s market position. Competing short-video apps that have been in TikTok’s shadow, have recently seen their download numbers spike dramatically. Triller and Likee seem to be the apps making the largest dents in the market right now, luring new users in with their slight variations on TikTok’s core features alongside their own unique selling point(s).

Triller, the Los Angeles-based music video-sharing app backed by celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne, seems to be the TikTok alternative du jour, hitting No 1 in the app store in early August as news of TikTok’s potential ban spread. The app has been proactively targeting TikTok creators while it fields inbound interest from users. According to the Los Angeles Times, big-time TikTok stars, including Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, Noah Beck, and Anthony Reeves are a few of the creators departing the platform in favour of Triller. 

Another smaller opponent making waves both within the US and around the world is Chinese-owned TIkTok competitor, Likee. The app is one of TikTok’s fastest-growing rivals, accumulating 7.25 million downloads from early July to early August and outshining Triller’s 2.55 million downloads over that period. As Adam Blacker, an Apptopia vice president of insights told FOX Business, “Triller may be trending now in the short term, but Likee is the app to watch.” Though the app is very similar to TikTok with regards to content, Likee stands out as a photo and video editing app platform, with cutting-edge video shooting and editing tools, countless filters and more than 2,000 special effects available –  there are no limits to creative expression. But similarly to TikTok, Likee is not immune from scrutiny over apps with Chinese roots; and as a result, may experience similar issues and pressures from governments in the future. 

So, what’s next?

TikTok, of course, is determined to stave off these threats, with the general manager of TikTok North America promising that they are “not planning on going anywhere.” How things evolve will be determined partly on how quickly they can resolve the current impasse, and partly by whether users stay true to the platform they’ve quickly adopted en-masse. If the issues linger too long, people’s eyes could be swayed. TikTok needs to move fast. The competition is waiting to fill the void.